Exactly three years ago, on January 7, 2010, during a press conference regarding the 2009 attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan declared to reporters: "I told the President today I let him down." That admission of responsibility for a major intelligence failure was completely absent from Monday's network morning show coverage of President Obama nominating Brennan to be CIA director.
While NBC, CBS, and ABC focused much of their attention on the President's nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense and the likely confirmation fight that would result, Brennan's nomination was only a brief side note.
NBC's Today provided the longest mention of Brennan, with chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd reporting:
First at CIA, the choice is John Brennan, he has been the President's chief counterterrorism adviser in the West Wing. It's actually a post Brennan has wanted for years and is now going to get it....Interestingly enough, back to John Brennan a second, he was the President's initial choice for CIA before he actually even took the oath of office, but a lot of groups on the left were upset with some of Brennan's positions on torture at the time. Those positions are things that Brennan has since cleared up.
Notice that the only suggestion of controversy with Brennan was to recall liberal complaints.
CBS's This Morning followed the same pattern, as White House correspondent Bill Plante explained: "...going back to Brennan for a second. He was considered once before for CIA Director back in 2008 but there were questions about whether he was involved in the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques when he was in the CIA during the previous administration. He denied it."
ABC's Good Morning America relegated Brennan's nomination to a single sentence during a news brief by Josh Elliot: "Also today, the President, today, is expected to name John Brennan, his top terrorism adviser, to lead the CIA, replacing David Petraeus, who resigned in a sex scandal."
During that same 2010 press conference, while trying to explain what went wrong and how a terrorist could have managed to smuggle explosives onto a passenger aircraft without warning, Brennan acknowledged: "I am the President's assistant for Homeland Security and counterterrorism, and I told him that I will do better and we will do better as a team."
Will those in the media actually do their job and confront the administration on Brennan's competency as an intelligence official?
Here is a transcript of Todd's January 7 Today report on the Hagel and Brennan nominations:
LAUER: Let's begin on a Monday morning with a battle that's brewing over the President's next pick for secretary of defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel. Chuck Todd is NBC's chief White House correspondent. Chuck, good morning to you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Hagel's Uphill Battle; Controversial Former Sen. to Be Nominated as Defense Secretary]
CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Matt. President Obama is actually set to name two members, two new members of his national security team today, a new CIA director and, of course, a new secretary of defense. First at CIA, the choice is John Brennan, he has been the President's chief counterterrorism adviser in the West Wing. It's actually a post Brennan has wanted for years and is now going to get it.
As for Defense, this is actually the third time the President's had to fill an opening at the Pentagon. And for the second time, his choice is a Republican. This time it's former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. But Hagel's nomination is already touching off a big political fight. Before Chuck Hagel can take over at the Pentagon, he must be confirmed by the Senate, and he's already facing an uphill battle. Even though Democrats control the Senate, NBC News has learned as many as ten Democratic senators could vote against Hagel. Publicly, leading Democrats have not expressed much support.
CHARLES SCHUMER [SEN. D-NY]: I'd have to study his record.
TODD: And despite Hagel's twelve years in the Senate as a Republican, he may find support from his old Republican colleagues hard to come by.
MITCH MCCONNELL: I think there will be a lot of tough questions of Senator Hagel, but he'll be treated fairly.
TODD: Known for his independence, Hagel became a thorn in the side of Senate Republicans in 2007, turning against the Iraq war.
CHUCK HAGEL: The most divisive issue in this country since Vietnam.
TODD: And Hagel bonded with then-candidate Obama during a trip to Iraq in 2008, and the two have remained close since.
BARACK OBAMA: I've served with Chuck Hagel, I know him, he is a patriot.
TODD: Still, Hagel faces questions about his support for Israel, after once referring to certain pro-Israeli groups as a, quote, "Jewish lobby," offending some lawmakers.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is an in-your-face nomination by the President to all of us who are supportive of Israel.
TODD: And some gay rights advocates are upset over comments Hagel made in 1998 about an openly gay U.S. ambassador nominee, who Chuck Hagel called "openly aggressively gay." Former Congressman Barney Frank, who's also gay and may end up a temporary senator from Massachusetts during Hagel's confirmation hearings, blasted the Nebraska Republican last week, saying, "I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle."
Aides say the President is sticking by Hagel because of his desire to have a defense secretary who wore the uniform and who will be comfortable standing up to the generals. And debates with those generals over Afghanistan troop levels became quite contentious in 2010. In a new book, the President's former Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, noted what he called, "the emergence of an unfortunate deficit of trust between the White House and the Department of Defense."
The President's going to make these picks formal later after lunchtime today, Matt. Interestingly enough, back to John Brennan a second, he was the President's initial choice for CIA before he actually even took the oath of office, but a lot of groups on the left were upset with some of Brennan's positions on torture at the time. Those positions are things that Brennan has since cleared up. Matt.
LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd in Washington this morning. Chuck, thank you very much.